Soon-To-Be-Renamed Big East Retains Rights Relationship With ESPN

The conference formerly known as the Big East officially announced its new media-rights deal with ESPN  on Tuesday. ESPN will broadcast the conference’s football, basketball, and Olympic sports through 2019-20.

‘We’re going to work with ESPN to see what we can do during telecasts that are innovative and cutting-edge. Anything that we can do to be innovative, we are going to do.’ — Commissioner Mike Aresco

‘We’re going to work with ESPN to see what we can do during telecasts that are innovative and cutting-edge. Anything that we can do to be innovative, we are going to do.’ — Commissioner Mike Aresco

The deal matches NBC Sports’ offer of $126 million over seven years, a significant step down from the nine-year, $1.17 billion offer the conference received from ESPN in spring 2011.

Even so, Commissioner Mike Aresco was optimistic about the prospect of remaining a partner with ESPN.

“I am delighted that the current Big East Conference … will be partnering with ESPN well into the future,” he said. “The extraordinary exposure provided by the ESPN networks will give viewers the opportunity to see the exciting competition and intense rivalries that will characterize our conference.”

According to the agreement, which also bundles rights for basketball and Olympic sports, nearly 90% of the games will be carried on national broadcast or national cable. The minimum number of telecasts collectively on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU will be higher than the number of telecasts in the current contract, which expires at the end of the 2013 season.

As a former television executive, Aresco understands the importance of strong TV exposure for his new conference.

“We’re going to work with ESPN to see what we can do during telecasts that are innovative and cutting edge,” he said. “We’re also going to work with ESPN on the digital world. Anything that we can do to be innovative, we are going to do.”

The deal does allow limited sublicensing of conference games for regional and national distribution.

Also, digital provisions will allow ESPN video subscribers access to the games via digital and mobile devices. ESPN3 has built relationships with numerous colleges in building an online ESPN3 brand (much like the one with former conference member St. John’s).

“There’s a provision that allows for distribution of some content on ESPN3,” says Burke Magnus, SVP, college sports programming, ESPN. “I suspect as was the case with the old group, like at St. John’s, we’d be happy to engage with the members on a way going forward to expand on distribution of, primarily, their Olympic-sports content in the same way.”

The conference is expected to announce its network deal for basketball sometime next week. CBS has been the Big East’s longtime partner.

As for the conference itself, the former Big East does not yet have a new moniker, but Aresco said that a name and logo will be announced in either April or May.

He also would not comment on who the 12th member of the conference may be. The league needs a 12th team to be allowed by the NCAA to hold a football conference-championship game. Aresco did say that expectations are to hold a football championship by 2015. The game will be carried by ABC or ESPN.

When the new ESPN deal takes effect in 2014, the Big East will comprise Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist, South Florida, Temple, Central Florida, East Carolina, and Tulane. Navy is slated to join as a football-only member in  2015. Current Big East members Louisville and Rutgers will depart to the ACC and Big Ten, respectively, following the 2013-14 academic year.

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